Globe refutes claims made by scientists in CommonWealth article
Cites proof officials were told of Philip Morris involvement
BOSTON GLOBE Media Partners produced emails and text messages on Monday contradicting the claims of a series of prominent scientists who claimed they were interviewed for Globe sponsored content without being told the sponsor of the advertising was tobacco giant Philip Morris International.
The scientists cried foul in an article published by CommonWealth on March 27. They said they agreed to interviews about the role of scientists in research only to learn later that the articles were part of an advertising campaign launched by Philip Morris related to the promotion of a smokeless tobacco product.
Two physicians at Massachusetts General Hospital, for example, were featured in a sponsored content piece about the role of scientists. “Both physicians said they had assumed the person conducting the interview was a Globe reporter and that the information would be used in a newspaper article,” Massachusetts General Hospital said in a statement issued to CommonWealth. “Neither physician was aware at the time of the request that the interviews were in conjunction with a sponsored advertising effort.”
But the Globe produced email and text correspondence with the physicians and the other scientists quoted in the CommonWealth article indicating that they were told Philip Morris was the sponsor.
Branded or sponsored content is a bit different from regular ads. It is paid for by an advertiser and labeled as advertising, but it is produced by freelancers and looks and reads more like a regular news story. Officials with Globe Media Partners, in fact, call it journalism.
Phillip Morris has paid for more than 40 sponsored content pieces in the Globe. Most of the articles focus on the value of science and make no reference to tobacco products. But five of the articles were commentary pieces written by Phillip Morris officials that trumpeted the virtues of its smokeless tobacco product. Public health groups have criticized the Globe for running tobacco advertising in violation of a ban the newspaper instituted in 1999.
In a statement, the Globe did not address the return of tobacco advertising to its publication or criticize the scientists quoted in the Phillip Morris sponsored content for the comments they made to CommonWealth. Instead, the statement defended the use of sponsored content and criticized CommonWealth.
“Our journalism is funded by subscribers and, like nearly all of our industry colleagues, advertisers. Branded content has become an essential and widely used product by many prominent news organizations. Done well, it creates a better experience for advertisers and for readers and it helps support our industry.
“When working with an advertiser on branded content, Boston Globe Media’s advertising team maintains an editorial firewall — the newsroom and opinion teams have no involvement. We are deeply committed to honoring the integrity of our journalism and demand that our Studio/B team and the freelance writers with whom we work are transparent throughout the process.
“This includes disclosing the nature of the work as branded content to potential sources and subjects. We share who the sponsoring entity is. When we publish, we clearly separate and label the final product on our print and digital platforms so that readers are aware that the articles are not produced by the Globe’s journalists. This is all common industry practice.“We are surprised by the journalistic tactics employed by CommonWealth. An individual who described himself as a freelance writer emailed the Globe seeking comment without identifying whether he was working for a specific publication or pursuing a personal agenda. He never mentioned the misleading claims that he went on to raise in the story. He didn’t follow up for any specific reason. We would expect far more of an organization that undoubtedly holds itself to basic journalism standards.”
CommonWealth is adding a note to the original piece and will follow-up with additional reporting once it hears from the scientists quoted in the story.